This thing with feminism, and with the “no fish in the sea” mentality, is starting to get more and more pressing. I’m sick to my guts to see all kinds of netizens who are a kind of white knight waving their flags in a cause to defend the “rights” of women in games. We talked about the subject and honestly, the need to point out something fundamentally wrong in “Internet thinking”, ran out for me, after years of debates in YouTube comments sections.
Yet there are still people I respect in the gaming industry, people I consider to be leaders and are there because they can change something. Behind these individuals on the other side are extremists. Those individuals who take an idea so far that I begin to lose hope in humanity.
For example: recent Twitter Hash Tag #womenaretoohardtoanimate, started by the same white knights and geniuses who feel the need to see girls in the Assassin’s Creed series. Why? Because apparently you can’t be a girl and want to play only as a male character. And in this context, precisely because I am a boy and don’t rightly know what troubles girls go through when they play, or how they feel when encountering portrayals of female characters, I asked a seriously experienced female colleague in the industry with years of gaming behind her to share her opinion. So Fleur, go ahead and enlighten us!
“Heh… I never thought I would so readily get on the other side of the barricade. When it comes to games I vehemently argue in favor of two things: a good plot and diversity. Plus I am the kind of “sad” person who believes a happy ending is not necessarily a good ending. But that’s another story. This time around I think I’m crossing into the realm of an endless story – the long debate on the presence of female characters in the videogame industry.
As a girl, I naturally advocate for characters that I feel comfortable playing as and represent me. But I raise skeptical eyebrows when witnessing absurd debates, because few things irritate me more than non-constructive criticism.
Short version: In the Ubisoft conferenceat E3 and in interviews, Alex Amancio (Ubisoft creative director) was faced with the question, “Why is there no playable female character option in the co-op playing mode in AC Unity?”
And the general answer was “because it’s too much work.” That generated a wave of discussion and hashtags throughout the Internet, including the “most successful” #womenaretoohardtoanimate.
But only the “long” version of these events starts to get truly interesting. There exists, inside the wonderful space of anonymity and autonomy called Internet, a powerful flow of opinions birthed of excessive zeal and lacking finality. Usually these voices are powered by a valid argument, but this time, from the perspective of a man who spent years studying gender policy in culture, it seems an unjustifiable uprising and more than that I feel the need to point out that they’re barking up the wrong tree.
The alleged problem is: the lack of a female character in the co-op system. The reasoning involved: “It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets,” Amancio said. “Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work.”
What critical voices chose to understand was “the female body is too hard to animate.” Maybe I have lost some sense of semantics because I seem to be the only person to understand that animating a female body is just as easy or hard as animating a male one.
Fact: Assassin’s Creed Unity is the story of Arno (someone in the creative department had a funny sense of humor when christening the character with the name of the river crossing through Florence – probably because it’s still hard for them to let go of some characters).
The game itself is still, essentially, a single player one. Inside the map there are mission activation locations for co-op play, where the main character may be helped by three other assassins who are clearly built on the same animation framework. In co-op play every player will automatically see himself as Arno. The fact that I may have two male characters and a female one at my side instead of what the game already offers, does nothing extra for me.
I don’t understand the importance of having a female character in such an irrelevant context; it offers no impact on the plot I can’t even enjoy that female character because I would not be able to play as it. A female animated model will revolutionize nothing in this form. Whoever wishes to have female avatars in the Assassin’s Creed franchise is welcome to spend hours upon hours in multiplayer mode.
Since Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, every game so far has had a multiplayer section where different ethnicities as well as the female gender are represented in abundance and in a non-offensive fashion, and in opposition to co-op, multiplayer offers the possibility to choose from an extended cast of characters to play as, and who I can customize to my liking.
I am open to discussion regarding a female assassin the moment Ubisoft will boost another female character as protagonist, with a solid story that can hold its own weight. I say another female character, because I feel compelled to remind everyone that the franchise already has a female protagonist for one of the series, Avelin de Grandpre (Assassin’s Creed Liberation), who I’d rather not insist upon, because neither the weak story nor the marketing effort could help her get more recognition.
From the point of view of another possible female character from Ubisoft, I’m optimistic. Not only is such an assassin practically unavoidable, but I’m convinced they’ll know exactly how to “handle” her. At least the blows Ubisoft are currently taking are sure to motivate them more in this direction.
Then, when Ubisoft returned with new answers to the attacks received, there suddenly appeared a second wave of criticism, this time accusing sexism and racism. This time, what seems to bother the accusers is no longer the “lack of a female character in co-op,” but that “Ubisoft are making excuses and lying to us.”
It changes the situation. I am neither a developer nor a producer, but I’m not a stranger to the way things happen in the industry. There is a certain type of information that a future product representative (video game, film, etc.) is allowed to reveal before the product sees the light of day.
It seems to me ironic that someone in the creative department has to answer for the decisions taken probably by another department. Whether it’s a question of resources, time, or any other economic motivations, Ubisoft did not offer excuses. Given that each year the franchise delivers a new episode, I’m convinced they would rather get rid of elements likely to seriously increase the workload, in order to keep an attractive level of detail on the models currently under work. I don’t think Amancio would have made anyone happy if he said “we are pressured to push out a game every year and to do that we have to sacrifice diversity”.
And there is one other important thing that people overlook. What the development team wants is not necessarily what the public gets. The comment in recent days give the impression that folk don’t really know what editors and producers do. When we look at a franchise, we must know in which direction to resolve problems. It seems to me that in itself, the Assassin’s Creed franchise receives a lot of unwarranted hate.
If there are pro-diversity voices, I suggest the shout “sexism and racism” where problems are bigger and more obvious (Metal Gear, GTA if you want examples and reasons to hate me), if you still have that passion. I look forward to another successful example of industry that has managed to bring Arab protagonists to the attention of gamers (Altaïr – the first AC is also one of the few games that turn westerners into villains and not vice versa), Native Americans (Connor – ACII), mulattos (Aveline – AC Liberation) or simply colored characters (Adewale of the Freedom Cry DLC).
I like and makes me happy that there is an awareness of the problematic situation, and that the question “but why do we not have a female character?” came up, especially in the case of a franchise with high expectations, even traced by team behind it – “This work of fiction was designed, developed and produced by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs”, is the message that runs at the beginning of each game. But there must be a healthy dose of realism when you identify a problem. AC Unity is irrevocably the story of Arno and the world seems to forget this. The option of co-op play is a simple trick. The only reason the remaining three characters might be given a name, is to complete the story with more details and nothing more.
As a fan of the series, obviously I have my own complaints regarding the final result. There are serious and quite often frustrating problems, but clearly diversity and creativity are not among them. There are few products that touch my soul in terms of characters and story, and my suggestion is that we watch the status of diversity in the videogame industry from a distance, and try to determine what hinders the freedom of creative departments from paying more attention to other types of narration.” – Fleur Du Mal.